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Cut biofuel targets to feed the poor, leaders are urged

Times Online
June 3, 2008

Cut biofuel targets to feed the poor, leaders are urged

World leaders will be urged today to cut EU and US biofuel targets immediately and divert more grain to tackle the global food crisis.

As more than 40 heads of state meet at the emergency food summit in Rome, aid organisations stepped up their demand for action on biofuels, which have contributed to an 83 per cent rise in food prices in the past three years.

Gordon Brown indicated yesterday that he would support a review of EU biofuel targets as he called for the food crisis to be placed at the top of the agenda at the G8 summit next month in Japan.

Speaking after a meeting with Yasuo Fukuda, the Japanese Prime Minister, Mr Brown said that he backed the need to expand aid and help for agricultural production. “We need to look at whether we have made the right decisions over time about the production of biofuels at the expense of food.”

Britain is now reviewing its own target, which is to ensure that 5 per cent of transport fuel is made up of biofuels by 2010. The European Commission is drawing up a compulsory target for all members of a 10 per cent minimum of biofuels by 2020.

The switch to biofuels to reduce carbon emissions is directly linked to higher prices and has led to the destruction of rainforests and grasslands, aid organisations say. As more land is diverted from growing crops for consumption to grain for ethanol, food inflation will rocket even farther, they argue.

Douglas Alexander, the International Development Secretary, who is representing Britain at the summit, is also expected to argue for urgent aid in the form of fertilisers and seeds. He will call on the US and Europe to reduce farm subsidies, but will face opposition from the Americans and some EU member states.

Both developing and developed countries will also be urged to review trade agreements and increase cash aid to the poorest nations. Yesterday Jacques Diouf, the Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, said that rich countries should increase aid tenfold to £15 billion to help to solve the crisis.

Oxfam has also estimated that an extra £8 billion is needed to scale up immediate assistance to at least 290 million people threatened by rising food prices. Longer-term changes included “the urgent review of compulsory biofuels targets in rich countries to stop their inflationary impact”, an Oxfam report out today says.

Recent estimates suggest that increased demand for biofuels accounts for 30 per cent of recent food price rises while mounting scientific evidence shows biofuels are having an overall negative impact on climate change, it said.

The summit will be followed by a meeting of the World Trade Organisation on trade barriers to enable farmers in poor countries to export their produce, and by the G8 in Japan in July.

UN officials say that 100 million people are threatened with hunger and social and political turmoil because of the global food-price crisis. But non-governmental organisation activists — who are holding a “parallel” food forum — said there was a danger that the summit would favour solutions which “concentrate land and capital in the hands of a few”.

Campaigners have set up stalls with empty plates outside the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s palatial headquarters near the Circus Maximus to symbolise hunger and the plight of small farmers. The building was formerly the Fascist-era ministry for Italy’s African colonies.

The price of rice has doubled since January, and dairy products, soya beans, wheat and sugar have also risen rapidly.

On the agenda

Food prices Record highs have led to riots in some countries. The price rises have been driven by factors such as bad weather, raised demand from India and China, low stockpiles and an increase in the cultivation of biofuel crops

Biofuels Aid organisations want a review of US and EU biofuel and ethanol targets to stop more farm land being diverted from food production. Natural carbon sinks, such as rainforests and grasslands, are being cleared for biofuel plantations

Climate change Crop failures in key grain-producing countries have led to shortages. Climate change has resulted in unpredictable harvests. Small-scale farmers are particularly vulnerable

Food aid When food prices rise, food aid declines, partly because it is used to get rid of surpluses. Even without high prices, food aid can arrive late or in the wrong form and weaken local recovery — aid groups say that cash is better

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article4053744.ece

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